Landscape Literacy

Horror Stories with Howie: The Cicadas Are Coming!

By now, we are sure you’re aware that many areas around DC will be plagued by the 17 year cicada bug this summer. But what are cicadas? How will they affect your landscape?

Enter Howard Baker, or Howie, as we affectionately call him. Howie manages our IPM program and irrigation. And he’s a genius when it comes to bugs and your landscape. We asked Howie to share his thoughts on the cicadas, and here’s what we learned:

Cicadas are insects that are best known for appearing every decade or so and making a lot of noise – primarily made by the males. There are over 3,000 species of cicadas. The most commonly known cicada in North America is the Magicicada periodical cicada – their life cycles are a shocking 13 – 17 years, while other cicada species come back every year. The cicadas will emerge in patchy areas throughout Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. After the cicadas first start appearing, they will last about 4-6 weeks. Their only intent is to attract each other, mate, and lay eggs. Once that’s done, they die off.

Cicadas can be very damaging to plants. They feed on plant xylem, which is how the plant transports water and nutrients. As you can imagine, this can quickly kill the plant. Cicadas are most attracted to hardwood trees such as oak, maple, hickory, walnut, and cherry trees. Female cicadas are the ones that cause the damage by “drilling” their way into the trees. Cicadas are benign to humans; they do not sting or bite, although they occasionally mistake a person’s arm for a plant limb and attempt to feed. Nymphs (baby cicadas) emerge from the ground creating a turret/chimney. They do not harm your lawn; if anything they aerate your lawn by emerging through the soil.

If you see cicada activity in your landscape and have questions or concerns, please contact us. Rest assured, these bugs should disappear by mid-summer.